Would it be possible for the judiciary to receive a share of the P24 billion in pork barrel funds that Congress scrapped from the national budget? The diversion could go to improve services and cover monthly allowances for judges.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s plan to revise the setup and have judges receive allowances directly from the Supreme Court, instead of Local Government Units (LGUs), should bode well for judicial independence.
For years, the practice has been condoned, but quietly erodes the impartiality – in fact and public perception – that courts should embody without question.
At least two Cebu-based judges have said their piece on this issue.
Court of Appeals (CA) justice Gabriel Ingles, who has consistently declined receiving a stipend from Cebu City Hall or the Capitol, says he prevers having the Supreme Court as the giver of allowances, not the LGU, if only to reiterate the judiciary’s independence from the executive and legislative branch.
Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. says he isn’t opposed to LGUs giving allowances to judges because it is allowed under the law and the extra financial help is welcomed.
Judge Dumdum was being practical about this, pointing out that judges should not be beholden to the host LGU just because of the allowances they’re receiving from them.
Ingles’ argument dovetails with an earlier position taken by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that it was unbecoming for prosecutors to receive allowances from LGUs. She wanted to ensure their independence from local officials, especially when cases are brought before the Department of Justice.
A table of salary rates from the Supreme Court, which Cebu Daily News ran on its front page last week, showed the basic salary and four kinds of allowances currently being received by judges.
The figures were comparable to the pay of topcorporate executives and was far from being considered “slave pay”. Members of the Judicial and Bar Council pointed out in a recent Cebu forum that the compensation has vastly improved from levels a few years ago.
The table did not yet include the P35,000 monthly allowance given by Cebu city or the P12,000 from the Capitol.
If total compensation is already pay “above the level of corruption”, there is little basis to hold on to LGU allowances or have the judges’ dignity slip further by having them beg the sitting mayor or governor to maintain stipends that at least one chief executive in the past had withdrawn as a warning to those who try to “bite the hand that feeds.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.